Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavaliers defeated the Boston Celtics 135-102 Thursday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden. The Cavs took the series 4-1 and advanced to their third consecutive meeting with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, which open June 1 in Oracle Arena.
1. A few scenes to remember before I get to LeBron James passing Michael Jordan to become the leading playoff scorer in NBA history.
2. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he was wearing water, not champagne. The locker room floor wasn’t soaked, but Lue headed to the post-game press conference in a nearly-drenched shirt and Finals cap. He still hugged acquaintances on the way and got a new cap from a league staffer before stepping in front of the television cameras and a full room of reporters.
3. There was some hooting and yelling as the Cavs waited for the trophy presentation hosted by TNT’s Ernie Johnson. Cavs radio analyst Jim Chones, a member of the “Miracle of Richfield” team, also participated. Richard Jefferson handed his phone to a Cavs employee so he could get his own copy of the team picture. Lue had to be encouraged to return to the fray for the photograph, he’d ducked out of the group as soon as the trophy part of the festivities ended.
4. Ex-Cav Shaquille O’Neal stopped in the locker room after the TNT postgame show to congratulate James.
5. James is making a record seventh consecutive trip to The Finals, along with teammate James Jones. He’s the all-time leading playoff scorer. For the first time in league history, the same two teams will meet in The Finals for three consecutive years. But when asked what stuck out through all that emotion and history, James said, “I think the first thing for me was seeing the excitement on Kyle [Korver's] and Deron [Williams] face. You've got one guy with 12 years, first Finals appearance, and another guy 14. And just to see the excitement around my teammates -- I do it for them, and they give it back to me as well.”
6. Through with media interviews, Channing Frye scoured the locker room for a beer, to no avail. “This is the most beerless team I’ve ever been around,” Frye said.
7. At the adjoining locker, Jefferson said he would tell Finals first-timers Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams and Kay Felder they couldn’t eat any cookies for the next two weeks. When pressed, he said he was joking, but I’m not so sure.
8. The Thrillogy was upon them, but the Cavs didn’t want to talk much about the Warriors, a heavy Finals favorite with the addition this season of Kevin Durant.
9. “I'm going to be honest, I'm not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State. It's too stressful, and I'm not stressed right now,” James said. “I'm very happy about our accomplishment. I have no discussion -- Golden State, they've been the best team in our league for the last three years, and then they added an MVP. That's all I can give you right now, because I'm happy and I don't want to be stressed. They cause a lot of stress, and I'll get to that point when we start to prepare for them.”
10. Jefferson went a little further.
11. “We want to defend our title. We have a great team we’re playing against, first time in history it’s been the same teams three years in a row,” he said. “I think we all believed that, I wouldn’t say we believed we would play them, but we believed they were the best team in the Western Conference and we were the best team in the Eastern Conference. Barring injury or something cataclysmic, we figured we would probably meet. But none of that matters if you don’t take care of your business prior. They did a great job, they’re 12-0, we’re 11-1, we’re 11-1 with a (21)-point lead at home. We understand it’s going to be two titans meeting.”
12. But Jefferson had something more important he wanted to say, a declaration about James passing Jordan that turned into a soliloquy. After a 35-point performance, James now has 5,995 points to Jordan’s 5,987. And James, 32, should still have a few more years left in his prime.
13. “Oh, man, can I tell you guys this, and I want to go on record, I want to be the first one to say this. His record when he’s done will be unbreakable,” Jefferson said. “And I want to put this out there, like the Joe DiMaggio hit streak and you look at some of these records, Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100, there are certain records that will be unbreakable. Whoever tries to get to that is going to have to play in 10 NBA Finals and average 30 points a game to get there.
14. “Let’s put that in perspective. That’s impossible. What he’s doing right now is obviously on a level that has never been seen before. To pass Michael Jordan when you’re still in the prime of your career, one of the greats of all-time, that record will be unbreakable. If he adds another 1,000 points, who’s going to be able to come in and go to 10 NBA Finals in this modern day? Just to have an opportunity to do that, go to the playoffs every year, average 30, just the longevity to do that, the durability to do that. Most guys are fortunate to play 10 years, to play 15 years. But to have to play 12 years and go to the Finals 10 times and average 30 points a game? It’s impossible. That record, I won’t live to see that record be broken.”
15. James wouldn’t comment on Jefferson’s “unbreakable” proclamation, turning it instead into a promo for Jefferson and Frye’s “Road Trippin’” podcast that is now part of James’ Uninterrupted multi-media platform for athletes.
16. But when talked turned to Jordan and his influence on his career, James got serious.
17. “I wear the number because of Mike,” James said of No. 23. “I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just seeing what he was able to accomplish. When you're growing up and you're seeing Michael Jordan, it's almost like a god. I didn't ever believe I could be Mike. I started to focus on myself on other players and other people around my neighborhood because I never thought that you could get to a point where Mike was.
18. “I think that helped shape my game. I think the biggest thing for me sitting here today after breaking the all-time scoring record in playoff history is that I did it just being me. I don't have to score the ball to make an impact in the basketball game. That was my mindset when I started playing the game. It's carried me all the way to this point now, and it's going to carry me for the rest of my career because scoring is not No. 1 on my agenda.”
19. When asked when he finally realized he could reach Jordan’s status, James said, “I don't -- have I?”
20. Told that he was “on the green,” if he hasn’t, James said, “I’m not a golfer. This guy right here to my left is, though, so he'll tell me what that means when we get on the bus.”
21. To that, Smith chimed in, “He drove the green, I'll tell you that.”
22. James said to have himself mentioned with Jordan in a discussion over the greatest basketball player of all time “is like, wow.”
23. “I did pretty much everything that MJ did when I was a kid,” James said. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore a leg sleeve and folded it down so you saw the red part. I wore black and red shoes with white socks. I wore short shorts so you could see my undershorts underneath. I didn't go bald like Mike, but I'm getting there. … It will be post-career, though. That's the only thing I didn't do. But other than that, I did everything Mike did. I even wore a wristband on my forearm. I didn't do the hoop earring, either. That was Mike. But I did everything Mike did, man.”
24. While acknowledging Jordan’s influence, James wants to have the same kind of influence on today’s youth who say they want to play like him.
25. “That's all part of the plan. It's been part of the plan since I really started taking this game serious,” James said. “To say, ‘How can I get the youth to feel like passing the ball is OK, making the extra pass is OK, drawing two defenders and no matter if you win or lose, if you make the right play, it's OK.’ Because scoring the ball is so heralded in our sport. I want the fundamentals of the game to be as great as they can be. And if some kid or a group of kids from the West Coast or the East Coast or the Midwest or the South and everything in between all around the world can look at me and say, ‘Well, I made the extra pass because LeBron made the extra pass,’ or ‘I got a chase-down block and I didn't give up on the play because LeBron didn't give up,’ that would mean the world to me. So we'll see what happens. We’ll see what happens.”
26. James’ teammates realized the magnitude of the moment and were glad to be a part of it. Kevin Love declined to go to the podium with James because he thought “tonight was a night he deserved to be on his own.” Love eventually joined James as he, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith crashed James’ interview session. They first stood just inside the doorway, then took to the podium to surround him. Smith kept his hand on the trophy virtually the entire time.
27. “He's been so special for us,” Love said. “We know what he brings to this game as a whole, brings to this league, our organization. Every night he brings it for us, sets the tone, and it's no different. There are so many different milestones and accolades that have come his way, and me being here for -- this is my third year now, having seen him accomplish so much is truly special.
28. “I mentioned not taking things for granted. Tonight is one of those nights. It was truly special to be a part of, and we knew it, too. When we drew up the play in the timeout in the third quarter and he came out and he was shooting the ball so well, went in, and we're celebrating it for him. It was big. Special.”
29. When James set the record with a 3-pointer from the left side with 2:40 left in the third quarter, it was off a pass from Kyrie Irving. That ignited a string of three consecutive 3s by James, the second also off an Irving feed, the third on an assist from Tristan Thompson that marked James final points of the night. The starters sat the entire fourth quarter.
30. Asked what he thought of James passing Jordan, Thompson said, “Huge. Huge. Huge. I give MJ a lot of credit, he’s a bad man, but that man, 23 over there from Akron, he’s a bad bleep, bleep, bleep. I’m happy for him.”
31. Thompson’s memory was a little fuzzy on which triple actually gave James the record, but the appreciation of being a part of it was unmistakable
32. “I hope when they show the film when he passed him, I didn’t pass him the first pass for the initial 3 that passed him, but I gave him the next pass,” Thompson said. “So hopefully that makes the highlight reel, so I can show my kids I actually did play with him.”